Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
These lines from one of my favorite hymns, Come Thou Fount, are a reminder of just how much I need a tether of truth for my heart, a strong stake which can hold me when I begin to wander. The path to finding a trustworthy stake for my heart hasn’t been an easy one for me. Often in my search I’ve found myself stumbling through a field of weeds.
When the theme of “Assessing” was given to us this spring, I limped along for a couple of months in resistance. Assessing is a word that contains a lot of baggage for me and triggers a flood of memories. Perhaps it is because I’ve spent over 50 years of my life playing a musical instrument which has no frets or keys or buttons to help me find the right notes with my fingers that this word makes me cringe. The memories of countless hours practicing my violin in a tiny room alone, and lessons spent listening to the correction of a teacher, are blurred together in my mind. I can remember being shown the aspects that could be improved upon, followed by days spent in the practice room working on them, again. Years of thinking like this have taught me the fine art of constantly evaluating myself, measuring my performance by analyzing the smallest details. Every note can become a thing that might thwart me in the pursuit of the perfect execution of my craft. I have sometimes found myself in the middle of a performance critiquing each individual note as it passes out of earshot.
Assessment can be so helpful, it really is a means of gathering information that has the potential to offer immense service, information which can be used to make wiser decisions. It helps you choose which clothes to pack for the weather you are expecting at your destination. It helps you evaluate the kind of soil you have in your backyard before beginning to plant. It helps you determine what you’ll make for dinner with the ingredients you have on hand. It is a tool that we must use every day to navigate the challenges of life and to be creative within the boundaries God has given us. It is when I mistake this tool for another that I run into trouble. If I try to use a shovel to stir tea when I should be using a teaspoon, I will end up with a big mess.
I find that it is so easy to mistake the tool of assessment for judgment, and this tool is one that I wield with little grace.
Perhaps you have the same trouble.
Yes, it is trouble when the voice that at first calmly suggests the possibility of another layer of beauty in a musical passage savagely changes into the voice that sneers, “You will never be good enough.” And it’s a small step after that, at least for me, to begin to echo that message, speaking to myself with a voice that drowns out all the others, “I’m no good. I can’t do this.” After a while, I just want to shout back, “I AM ONLY HUMAN!”
Now, if this spiral of assessment and judgment was isolated only to the aspect of my life called “musician,” the tangle would be easier to undo. However, like the creeping bellflower that first started in one corner of my garden and has infiltrated by underground roots to sprout up in unexpected places, this struggle is ubiquitous, at least for me.
These words “I AM ONLY HUMAN,” are an admission of my weakness, a confession of my shame at not having the power to be ENOUGH for the high bar I set for myself. Seeing this pop up again and again is like that bellflower in my garden. Haven’t I dug the roots out in this spot already? Actually, the statement “I AM ONLY HUMAN” is in itself an assessment. Yes, if I’m using this tool properly I must say that being human means that I have limitations. If I’m really honest, I will admit that I can never be perfect. Therefore, if perfection is the requirement for value, I will never in fact, be enough. Perhaps in the struggle to assess and cope with my weaknesses, I have overlooked a simple seed of truth.
The word human is very close to humus, and humus is the Latin word for earth or soil. A seed must be planted in soil to grow, and yet it is the seed and not the soil that contains the spark of life. The humus simply shelters the seed and nourishes it. The seed contains the life, and the soil is a servant to its growth.
It is interesting to me that our first ancestor’s name Adam comes from the Hebrew adamah or ‘ground.’ My humanness, the humus from which I’ve come, is where you’ve come from too. Adam and Eve, the first humans, had a choice presented to them, and one aspect of this choice is that it was an opportunity to either embrace or reject their humanness. They knew that being human was to be needy, dependent upon God, with an inner longing that could only be filled by Him. They had everything and yet they were familiar with the experience of not being enough by themselves. When they responded to the serpent’s temptation, they were responding to the allurement to be like God. Friend, I too take the bait quite easily, and often.
How easily I respond to my inadequacy, the lack I feel within myself, by trying to hide it from view. I keep trying to polish at least my exterior—the image that I think others will see—convincing myself that I am capable, strong, equipped…. enough. How easily I can persuade myself that my own efforts will overcome my human limitations! Why, I can practice harder, stay up later, bring more energy to the table, right? By relying on my own feeble attempts to perfect myself, I can turn myself into the person that I want to be, right? I might even get closer to being like God.
To be human is to lack. God is by definition the one who lacks nothing. And yet, when we try to be like God, we close ourselves off to receiving and now we not only lack, but we also now lack the ability to receive. The further we try to climb, the further we fall. The more God-like we try to become, the less human we also become. The soil of our heart becomes so hard that a seed can no longer penetrate. We become death closed off to receiving life. 
Take my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
Hold me fast to you, Lord. Cause this little seed to grow, tethered to the truth that will help my heart grow straight and strong.
I’ve begun to realize that there is another option. It’s a choice that has been offered to every human since the first two walked in the Garden. It’s the opportunity to embrace our humanity, to be the living soil in which the seed of God’s Spirit is planted. This stake of truth will bring me the freedom I long for and guide me to my truest self.
There is another Adam who showed me the way to be human—the Second Adam. Surely Christ is Himself the ultimate human. He walked this earth living in every way the life of a perfect human while also being—an unfathomable certainty—divine. His Father filled Him each moment as He obeyed the prompting of the Holy Spirit. He lived in perfect harmony with the Trinity. He experienced all of the temptations common to each of us, and yet He followed the Father’s will to the furthest ends that obedience could take Him. He freely chose to give up His own human life for us.
The only way a human like me can find true life is to follow Him into His.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
Surely each day, whether I am working on my craft as a musician, or any other task (such as writing an essay) I have an extraordinary opportunity. The real work of my life is to cultivate the soil of my heart. Living into my humanness, embracing instead of denying or covering up my weaknesses, allowing the “humus” of my heart to welcome the seed of His life growing in me. Deep down I know that my heart was made for this.
There is a prayer that we often say at my church just before we receive communion together; it is called “The Prayer of Humble Access.”  I love this prayer because it beautifully describes the truth of my human frailty, while also reminding me of God’s invitation into the abundant life that can be found in Him:
“We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your abundant and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord who always delights in showing mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.”
He has so much more for me than just crumbs under the table, but even those crumbs are out of reach if I insist on grabbing at them by myself. Slowly but surely, by letting go of my own ways and leaning into God’s ways, the person He created me to be will be reclaimed. As this little seed of truth takes root and grows stronger in my heart, I pray that eventually blossoms will spring forth, and that these blossoms will produce fruit that will last.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)
At last I’m learning that my feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency are fundamental to being human, that this is not something I will be able to cure, clean up, cover up, or grow out of. It is a constant reminder of my need for Him. However, this understanding lives side-by-side with the knowledge that I am loved by God unconditionally, and that He delights in showing mercy and grace even to me. In the lines of a song by Keith and Kristyn Getty, “Two wonders here I confess, my worth and my unworthiness. My value fixed, my ransom paid at the cross.”  This is a mystery, and it is also a steady truth that is an unmovable stake for my soul, a tether for my inner self, a guide when I am tempted to lose heart.
 I gained this perspective through a conversation with Eric Chesney, a friend who is a church planting apprentice in the Anglican Diocese of the Rocky Mountains. His explanation has helped me a lot in apprehending these truths.
 The Prayer of Humble Access traces its history to the Order of Communion of 1548, and has been included in the Book of Common Prayer since. The wording is based on two passages from the New Testament. One is Matthew 8:8: “The centurion replied, Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The other is found in Mark 7:28. This is a reply from a woman speaking to Jesus regarding her unworthiness, saying, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
 “My Worth is Not in What I Own (At The Cross.)” Words and music by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, and Graham Kendrick. © 2014 Getty Music Publishing (BMI) / Makeway Music.
I like the original by the Getty’s, but especially love this version by The Grey Havens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHqb_wSKX44
The featured image, “Lucy and Madeleine’s Beech Leaves,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.
Terri Moon is a musician and a lover of Jesus. She delights in playing the music of Bach, growing English roses, baking up a good batch of scones, and all good, true, and beautiful things that point to Him. She has found that the most fulfilling adventures come through collaborating with others, and to that end she and her husband Steve (also a member of The Cultivating Project) serve gladly in their church and also on the leadership team of the Anselm Society. Together they raised four children and are now proud grandparents. Hosting friends in their Colorado home is one of their favorite joint adventures.
Terri holds a master’s degree in violin performance, and has collaborated in many concerts and taught students of all ages for 40 years. Her lifelong passion is the intersection of music, worship, and spiritual formation, and she longs to bring to life the beauty of the Church’s heritage in the arts. Terri currently serves as the Music Director of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Colorado Springs.
A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship
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